The Down Syndrome Bill is set to become law after clearing its final parliamentary hurdle, passing its Third Reading in the House of Lords.
The Bill will now receive Royal Assent (when the Queen signs the Bill making it an Act), which will see England become the first country in the world to recognise people with Down syndrome under the law.
Dr Liam Fox MP, who proposed the legislation as a Private Members’ Bill, said he is “thrilled” the Down Syndrome Bill is set to become an Act of Parliament.
“This will mean there is now a law to deal with the issues faced by those with Down syndrome. I hope that three things will flow from this. The first is to help to de-stigmatise Down syndrome. The second is to ensure that current provision of services is improved. The third is to look ahead and deal with future issues, such as long-term care, in an era where, for the first time, many of those with Down syndrome will outlive their parents,” he said.
A “historic moment”
The National Down Syndrome Policy Group (NDSPG), who are championing the Bill, said: “We cannot overstate the work that Dr Liam Fox MP and his dedicated and highly professional team put in to this process. Without their vision and passion we would have got nowhere.
“This is a day to celebrate, whatever your political persuasion, as we saw MPs come together from all parties and work together for people with Down syndrome. Another historic day on the road to the world’s first Down Syndrome legislation – other countries are already looking with interest.”
British actor Tommy Jessop, who has Down’s syndrome, similarly described the passing of the Bill as a “historic moment”. He said: “It’s been a long journey for people with Down Syndrome. Now it’s time to make history. We’ve worked so hard for this. Well done everyone. This will change lives.”
Campaigners have criticised the Bill for alienating people with other disabilities
However, the Bill has not come without criticism, and some are concerned that the Down Syndrome Bill could alienate people with other disabilities, as it singles out one specific group.
After consulting its members, Learning Disability England said it would “only support the Bill if it includes all people with a learning disability”.
They also warned that the Bill would not change the laws we already have, as it simply offers guidance to local authorities.
Mencap say they will make a case for the Bill to be applied to everyone with a learning disability
However, the learning disability charity Mencap say, while they would have done things differently (such as make the Bill applicable to everyone with a disability and use social rather than medical language), it is important to “look optimistically at what this could lead to in the future.”
As Edel Harris, Chief Executive of Mencap explains: “People are asking me why Mencap is supporting the Down Syndrome Bill. The honest answer is that we wouldn’t be faithful to Mencap’s vision if we opposed a Bill which is aimed to benefit 40,000 people with a learning disability and, could be a stepping-stone to benefit the wider population of 1.5 million.”
Ms Harris said the Bill serves to remind public bodies of their duties, and aims to give people with disabilities and their families “an extra piece of ammunition” in fighting for the support that they need.
For this reason, once the Bill is enshrined in law, Mencap say they will make the case for this to be applied to everyone with a learning disability.
She added that the important thing to remember is the Bill’s unifying purpose is “for the UK to be the best place in the world to live a happy and healthy life, if you have Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, or any other form of learning disability.”